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Fired up, the 'Pink Pistols' club to protect gays

Pink Pistols, a pro-gun organisation asks members to set up task forces to protect gay centres.

Published: 19th June 2016 10:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2016 10:07 AM   |  A+A-

ORLANDO: Karen McCloud and her girlfriend fired round after round, the bullets hitting the human shaped silhouette down range in the head and chest.

A former soldier, Ms McCloud was a straight shot. Her hands steady, her breathing calm, she squeezed the trigger of her 9mm handgun, the hot casings falling to the floor.

"Bad people have guns, and the only people who can stop them are the good people with guns," she said, reloading her weapon. "That's exactly what went wrong the other night."

The day after the Orlando shootings, Ms McCloud, 48, joined the Pink Pistols, a pro-gun organisation that asks members to set up task forces to protect gay centres, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry guns. Membership had waned in recent years, with some of its 45 branches becoming inactive. But in the hours and days after Omar Mateen's murder of 49 people at Pulse gay club, the group's Facebook page was inundated. The inbox of founder Gwendolyn Patton filled up. Her phone rang off the hook.

Mrs Patton believes more than 1,500 people joined in the two days after the attack alone. "It's overwhelming," she said. "The requests just keep coming. I haven't slept in days." Referring to the killings at Pulse, Ms McCloud said: "Had somebody been legally carrying in there, someone could have gotten to the killer. I have no doubt in my mind."

This is a very American response to an American problem. Mass shootings have become tragically routine in the US. Mateen followed in the footsteps of 892 mass killers since the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook school in which 20 children were gunned down.

Solutions are complicated by a gun debate that is intractably politicised. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to toughen up restrictions and close loopholes in the law. But, helped by the powerful National Rifle Association lobby, Republicans have fervently opposed restrictions on gun sales, saying they violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

With the country awash with weapons, Ms McCloud believes restrictions on arms sales will do little to protect citizens. She recently sold her two guns, but now she is preparing to buy more. She is teaching her fiancee, Jasmine Alequin, 22, how to shoot and would like to open a branch of the Pink Pistols in Florida.

Ms McCloud recognises her views and those held by the Pink Pistols remain on the fringes of the gay community. In Parliament House, Orlando's oldest gay bar, open since 1975, customers discussed whether having more guns would help.

"No!" chorused Dee Ranged and Brooke Lynn Hytes - two drag queens, who had flown in from Nashville and Jacksonville to perform at a fundraiser for the Pulse bartenders. "We go to the bars to drink and dance - we don't want guns there," said Ms Ranged, also known as Rob Harper, 35.

But everyone agrees the attack has spread fear and insecurity through the gay community. Ray Christianna, 57, a lighting designer for Disney, is older than most of the Pulse victims: old enough to remember when, parading through the city in the late 1980s, he was confronted by white-hooded KKK members. "Things have been good in recent years," he said, propping up the bar of a Stonewall pub. However, he added, this would "wake people up". In a further reminder of the prejudices, the Westboro Baptist Church, which claimed "God sent the shooter" to punish gay people, has pledged to picket funerals and memorials.

Pulse had been a special place for Ms McCloud and Ms Alequin; it was the first place they felt comfortable with their sexuality and where they went on their first date. They remain defiant. "We may face discrimination," said Ms Alequin holding her partner's hand. "But I don't care; I love her. We are not going back into the closet."

"Now, would I feel a little safer if I had my Glock 43 on my hip? Yes," said Ms McCoud. "But will we stop? No. It's what they want."

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